AmeriScan: February 11, 2005

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Bush Seeks $950 Million to Cover Tsunami Relief Costs

WASHINGTON, DC, February 11, 2005 (ENS) - President George W. Bush has announced that he is seeking $950 million as part of a supplemental appropriations request to the U.S. Congress to support areas hit by the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and to cover the cost of relief efforts.

The $950 million figure includes the $350 million U.S. commitment made in January, plus an additional $600 million request.

Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Andrew Natsios described the president’s proposal as “the most generous and the most extensive in American history for the U.S. government.”

As much as $339 million of the total funds would be used for large-scale infrastructure projects, such as the reconstruction of highways in Indonesia.

“Many of the interior bridges within [the Indonesian province of] Aceh were completely destroyed by the earthquake before the tsunami arrived and many of the roads were damaged,” Natsios said. In order to have reconstruction, road systems will first have to be repaired.

The president is seeking $168 million for projects such as building schools, health clinics, and water distribution systems, Natsios said, as well as helping people living in shelters and temporary camps to move into permanent housing and establishing livelihood programs to help them generate revenues.

The USAID administrator said the Bush administration is seeking $62 million to fund technical assistance for capacity building to governments “so they have the infrastructure, the management information systems and the other planning tools necessary to make sure that this is all done in a coordinated way.”

About $35 million of the funding would be used to create early warning systems, which would also warn of other natural disasters, such as typhoons, which have killed many people in the region over the past 30 years, he said.

Natsios said the initial emergency food aid in the wake of the disaster has become rehabilitation aid for microfinance loans, job creation, health care, and sanitation aid.

As operations turn from relief support to rebuilding, the U.S. military has begun withdrawing personnel and equipment from the region.

As of February 9, there were 3,495 U.S. armed forces personnel providing relief support, 2,813 personnel are aboard Navy ships and the rest are located in Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the U.S. Pacific Command said. Those numbers are well below the nearly 18,000 U.S. military personnel who were in the region at the height of relief operations.

On February 12, headquarters of the the U.S. tsunami task force at the Royal Thai Naval Air Base in Utapao, Thailand, will close, the task force said in a statement.

U.S. military aircraft began flying search and rescue operations immediately following the event and military personnel were on the ground in the region three days after the tsunami struck.

The relief work began with disaster-assessment teams who worked with the government of each affected country to determine the level and extent of relief needed to deal with the initial humanitarian response, the task force said.

The Navy aircraft carrier strike group USS Abraham Lincoln has already left the region and the support group assigned to Indonesia began closing its operations Thursday.

The U.S. military has delivered 24.3 million pounds of relief supplies and equipment to the region since operations began, the Pacific Command said. U.S. military medical teams treated 2,238 civilians.

Some U.S. vessels, such as the hospital ship USNS Mercy with its medical and humanitarian capabilities, will remain to provide continuous support, said the Pacific Command. In addition, the U.S. military has 25 aircraft in the region providing support, including 18 helicopters from two Navy ships.

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North Pacific Fishery Council Shuts Out Bottom Trawlers

SEATTLE, Washington, February 11, 2005 (ENS) - To protect coral habitats in the Aleutian Islands and other fragile ocean floor ecosystems, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously adopted measures Thursday to close roughly 375,000 square nautical miles to bottom trawling in federal waters off Alaska.

The restricted area covers more than half the fishable waters off Alaska's Aleutian Islands - a huge area, equal to a 100 mile wide band from Mexico north to Canada off the U.S. west coast. It includes 103,000 square nautical miles already closed by the Council.

The Council also established numerous site specific Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) which include seamounts and fragile coral gardens, and put in place measures to protect these habitats as well.

Conservation groups were pleased with the vote. “We may not agree with all the steps taken by the Council,” said David Benton, executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance (MCA) representing fishermen, vessel owners and processors, “but we applaud the Council for taking action to protect essential fish habitat in Alaska.”

Benton, a former Council chairman, said, "The Council just tripled the area closed. This is a major step forward for conservation.” He noted that many of the proposals came from environmental groups, including many of the closed areas the Council adopted.

Benton also pointed out that the existing closures cover every habitat type in Alaska waters, but the Council took additional actions to protect fragile coral areas that had not been previously identified.

“In recent years new scientific data have shown us that there are fragile coral areas that perhaps deserve additional protection, especially in the Aleutian Islands. That is what the Council focused on,” said Benton. “It is a very precautionary approach, and provides another example of the ecosystem-based management approach the Council has used for years.”

MCA also welcomed the open and transparent public process used by the Council to develop the proposal. “The Council provided numerous opportunities for the public to participate in the process. They went the extra mile and the end product shows how a well run public process can work,”

The North Pacific Fishery Council is one of the eight regional fishery management councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s pre-eminent fishery law.

The North Pacific Council manages fisheries off Alaska, and was recognized by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy as a model for ensuring sustainable fisheries. Because the Council lets scientists set overall catch levels, there are no overfished groundfish stocks in Alaska.

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Cascadia Times Publisher Wins Oakes Journalism Award

NEW YORK, New York, February 11, 2005 (ENS) - The 11th annual John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism and its $5,000 prize will be awarded to Paul Koberstein, editor and publisher of the "Cascadia Times" of Portland, Oregon, and the author of the newspaper's special issue "Plundering the Pacific."

Koberstein examines the eight federally appointed committees that oversee U.S. fisheries and finds them riddled with conflicts of interest. These councils' shoddy management of marine resources, he writes, has a direct and damaging effect on the same seas they were established to protect.

Koberstein focuses on the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WESPAC) In 1976, Congress gave WESPAC responsibility over fishing in 1.5 million square miles of U.S. waters in the western Pacific - half of all the ocean waters under federal jurisdiction.

WESPAC promulgated rules for longliners, who fasten baits to lines that can extend 60 miles, so lax that some 1,500 endangered leatherback sea turtles were trapped and killed each year throughout the 1990s. This represents the most rapid decline of a large vertebrate population in history, sea turtle biologists say.

Koberstein's investigation highlights the political connections of Kitty Simonds, WESPAC's sole executive director for the past 29 years. He also reports that two men, Jim Cook and Sean Martin, who have long held sway on WESPAC, not only own vessels caught poaching lobster in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), but as large-scale sellers of commercial fishing equipment have financially benefited from WESPAC rule changes that maintain or increase fishing traffic.

WESPAC also fought a congressional ban on shark finning - cutting the fins off sharks and dumping them back into the water alive.

Koberstein describes a campaign led by WESPAC to dismantle the 1,200 mile land Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, located in one of the most remote archipelagos on Earth and of special cultural importance to Native Hawaiians. This area includes the vast majority of coral reefs in U.S. waters, as well as the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

A public process is now underway to convert the Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve to the nation's 14th National Marine Sanctuary. WESPAC held hearings across the Hawaii Islands last month to present its proposals for fishing in the sanctuary. WESPAC proposes to permit reef fishing, lobster fishing and precious coral collection in areas now closed to those activities.

"This scandal shows the pressing need for a thorough federal investigation of WESPAC's activities and use of public funds," said Environmental Defense scientist Stephanie Fried in Honolulu. "It's critical that strong protections remain in place for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands."

"The Northwestern Islands are a nursery for fisheries in the main Hawaiian Islands where thousands fish," said fisher Louis Agard, former head of the longliner Ahi Fishing Boat Association, bottomfish fisher and lobster trapper. "Protecting the distant islands as a public trust is necessary to rebuild fisheries in the main islands, to help local fishers who depend on them."

"The Oakes judges applaud the craft and commitment that make this work of independent, investigative journalism stand out in a field of outstanding contenders," said Joan Konner, chair of the Oakes Award Committee of Judges and professor and dean emerita of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

"It is an example of how a small, underfunded, independent publication can make a difference, especially at this time of destructive political incursions into the rules and regulations that protect natural resources and the environment," said Konner.

"Plundering the Pacific" appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of the "Cascadia Times."

The John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism was created and endowed in 1993 by friends and colleagues of John Oakes, former editorial page editor at "The New York Times" and creator of the contemporary op-ed page.

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U.S. Delays Lifting of Ban on Canadian Beef

WASHINGTON, DC, February 11, 2005 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has backed away from a March 7 date set by his predecessor, Ann Veneman, for lifting the existing ban on entry of Canadian beef products from animals aged over 30 months. That is the time in the life of a beef animal when mad cow disease is most likely to be present.

After his first meeting with his Canadian counterpart, Agriculture Minister Alan Mitchell, Johanns said, "Our ongoing investigations into the recent finds of BSE in Canada in animals over 30 months are not complete. Therefore, I feel it is prudent to delay the effective date for allowing imports of meat from animals 30 months and over.

He said that the March 7 deadline "is still there, and we're working our way toward that deadline."

But after two cases of mad cow disease in Canadian animals were reported since the March 7 date was announced in late December, a team of U.S. experts was dispatched across the border to determine what was causing the outbreak.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), spreads from one animal to another by consumption of feed that has been contaminated by abnormally shaped proteins called prions. Cattle feed additives such as meat-and-bone meal, that contain tissue from an infected animal, can pass on these prions.

These tissues - known as specified risk materials (SRMS) have been identified as most likely to contain prions.

The age of cattle determines which parts of cattle are SRMs. According to scientific evidence, the tissues of highest infectivity are the brain and spinal cord from cattle over 30 months of age, and small intestine of cattle less than 30 months of age - and these are prohibited from entering the human food supply in both Canada and the United States.

The ban on Canadian beef was imposed in May 2003 after the first native case of mad cow disease was identified in Canada. This ban has disrupted a trade relationship that is crucial to both countries.

Johanns said on Wednesday, "One of the things that I believe it's important to recognize is that Canada is the very key trading partner. There's no doubt about it; if you look at the statistics, U.S. exports to Canada were $9.7 billion last year. The U.S. market is the largest for Canada accounting for about $11.5 billion."

In an attempt to reopen the beef trade, on December 29, 2004, the USDA released a final rule that establishes criteria for geographic regions to be recognized as presenting minimal risk of introducing BSE into the United States. It places Canada in the minimal-risk category, and defines the requirements that must be met for the import of certain ruminants and ruminant products from Canada.

"A minimal-risk region," Johanns explained, "can include a region in which BSE-infected animals have been diagnosed, but where sufficient risk-mitigation measures have been put in place to make the introduction of BSE into the United States unlikely."

Most U.S. cattlemen are pleased with the delay. Texas cattle producer Jim McAdams, President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) said, the delay, "addresses a key concern brought to the table by thousands of NCBA members" who passed an 11-point directive on border issues at their annual meeting last week. "A major part of this directive called for a delay in imports of beef from animals 30 months of age and older," said McAdams, "and that’s exactly what the USDA is doing."

A bipartisan group of nine U.S. senators went much farther in their opposition to reopening beef trade with Canada. Thursday, they filed a Joint Resolution of Disapproval to the USDA's Final Rule that would reopen the Canadian border to live cattle and additional beef products on March 7.

Senators Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, and Craig Thomas, a Wyoming Republican, led the group. Other participating senators are: Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico, and Democrats Max Baucus of Montana, Ken Salazar of Colorado, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Harry Reid of Nevada, and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

Johanns said the USDA is still moving towards resuming the beef trade with Canada. "I am asking U.S. officials to move forward in consideration and development of a plan to allow imports of animals 30 months and older for slaughter as well as beef from over 30-month animals as the next step in resuming full trade with Canada," he said.

He expressed confidence that public and animal health could be protected if trade is resumed.

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Maryland Wetland Comes off Superfund List

HOLLYWOOD, Maryland, February 11, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to remove the Southern Maryland Wood Treating site in St. Mary’s County from the Superfund list without restrictions on future use of the property.

From 1965 to 1978, the wetland property was used for wood treatment operations. The treatment process used creosote and pentachlorophenol (PCP), which contaminated soils, groundwater, and a stream adjacent to the site.

The site was abandoned in the early 1980s, with processing equipment, contaminated soils, and deteriorating tanks of creosote and PCP left behind.

The EPA placed the site on its Superfund list of most toxic waste sites in 1986, making it eligible for federal cleanup funds. With input from community stakeholders, the EPA selected a cleanup technology called thermal desorption.

Thermal desorption removes harmful chemicals from soil and sediment by using heat to change the chemicals into gases. These gases are collected with special equipment. The dust and harmful chemicals are separated from the gases and disposed of safely. The clean soil is returned to the site. Thermal desorption is not the same as incineration, which uses heat to destroy the chemicals.

A plan to incinerate the contaminated soils and sediments onsite was changed due to local opposition because of perceived health concerns and high estimated costs.

Starting in 1998, EPA excavated some 270,000 tons of soil and sediment soaked with creosote and PCP from the site and adjacent stream. These materials were cleaned using thermal desorption, which laboratory testing confirmed was cleaning the soil to residential standards. In fall of 2000, the last load of contaminated soil was treated and backfilled into the excavated areas.

During fall of 2000, EPA regraded the site and planted a mix of wildflowers and grains to re-establish the area as a wildlife habitat. Visitors have reported evidence that wildlife is returning to the site.

Cleanup activities at the site were completed in 2003. Last November the site became the first former Superfund site in the mid-Atlantic region to be granted an official ready for reuse determination – indicating that the site is ready for reuse after the cleanup.

Deletion from the Superfund list means that the cleanup is complete and no human health or environmental threats remain. The EPA will continue to monitor its progress. A five-year review will take place to ensure that the cleanup remedy continues to be protective. The planned removal of the site from the list is subject to a 30 day comment period.

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Combined Sewer Overflows a Problem in Massachusetts

BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 11, 2005 (ENS) - The City of Holyoke has been hit with the fifth in a series of administrative orders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requiring the city to take action to reduce untreated sewage flowing into the Connecticut River.

The city's wastewater treatment plant takes both sewage and storm water runoff. Due to the lack of capacity, the pipes – known as combined sewer overflows, or CSOs – are designed to overflow after heavy rains, resulting in wastewater being discharged directly into the Connecticut River.

The overflows that occur in Holyoke discharge as many as 500 million gallons of wastewater into the Connecticut River in a typical year. These discharges are a major reason why the Connecticut River routinely fails to meet water quality standards after heavy rains.

CSOs pose a significant threat to water quality, carrying viruses, bacteria and other biological pathogens as well as industrial waste and toxic materials.

Since 1995, EPA has issued five administrative orders to the City. The agency's earlier orders required the city to assess its collection system, develop a long-term plan to control its CSOs, and to stop the flow of Green Brook into the city's wastewater treatment plant and divert it directly into the Connecticut River.

The current order, issued Wednesday, requires the city to eliminate overflows from the Mosher Street outfall, upgrade the wastewater treatment plant, and provide treatment to the Berkshire Street outfall, the source of the greatest volume of overflow. The order establishes a start date of July 1, 2005.

"CSO discharges add significant pollution to waterways across New England," said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "This order incorporates some of the projects that are already underway and makes the city accountable for their timely completion in order to further eliminate discharges from Holyoke's system into the Connecticut River."

Holyoke, in the Springfield metro area, is a growing city with a sewer system that is 125 years old, as Mayor Michael Sullivan told the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment in 2003 on behalf of the United States Conference of Mayors and its task force, the Urban Water Council.

"Holyoke is a city of about 40,000 people. In 1874 we became the first planned industrial city created in the nation. The sewer system that was created, over 125 years ago, was designed to assist our industries in getting rid of their byproducts."

Like so many other Northeast communities, Holyoke is facing "a severe CSO problem," the mayor testified.

"Below the Holyoke Dam, there are more than a hundred combined sewer overflows in the communities along the Connecticut, Chicopee, and Westefield Rivers. The federal government has been pushing eight western Massachusetts communities, including Holyoke, for the better part of a decade to eliminate these CSOs – at a collective cost of more than a quarter of a billion dollars."

"The City of Springfield is facing a total CSO cost of $110 - $140 million. The City of Chicopee is facing a CSO cost of $258 million. And the City of Hartford will need over $100 million in funds," Sullivan said.

"Holyoke’s estimated costs to take care of its own CSO problem is between $44-$78 million dollars. Officials have estimated that it will cost every sewer-using customer in my city $833, up from $200, per year to foot the bill," he explained.

"That is just an example of the problem that my city is facing. My counterparts all across the nation are facing similar problems. We do, however, recognize that there is not enough local, state or federal money available to satisfy all the water infrastructure needs in the country," he said.

While Mayor Sullivan made these remarks in 2003, the situation is still urgent today.

Holyoke is among several cities on the Lower Connecticut River facing severe CSO problems. Springfield and Chicopee are under compliance orders for reducing their CSO discharges, while the communities of Agawam, West Springfield, Ludlow and South Hadley have already eliminated their CSOs or are close to eliminating them.

But the states and cities are getting no help from the budget proposed by President George W. Bush on Tuesday.

The $7.57 billion proposed for the EPA is some $500 million less than the current budget for the agency, with the bulk of the cuts coming from grants to states for upgrades to sewage treatment facilities and clean water infrastructure.

President Bush is asking Congress to spend just $730 million on the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund for the 2006 fiscal year, slightly more than half of what was spent in 2004.

The administration proposed similar cuts last year, but Congress reinstated the funds.

For more on the EPA’s enforcement of clean water laws in New England visit: www.epa.gov/topics/water/cwa.html

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Wisconsin Tribe Gains Authority to Administer Clean Air Act

CHICAGO, Illinois, February 11, 2005 (ENS) - The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa this week became the first tribe in Wisconsin to be granted authority to administer parts of the Clean Air Act in a manner similar to states. Nationwide, 20 out of 575 federally recognized tribes have such authority.

EPA Region 5 Acting Administrator Bharat Mathur signed the decision document and presented a certificate to celebrate the action to Bad River Band leaders Wednesay at the tribal center in Odanah, Wisconsin.

"This action opens the way for the Bad River Band to seek available authority under the Clean Air Act to protect our nation's vital air resources as a sovereign partner with EPA," Mathur said.

As a result of today's action, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the federal EPA must give the Bad River Band advance notice of any Clean Air Act Title 5 operating permit applications they receive for air pollutant sources within 50 miles of the reservation boundaries.

The tribe would then be able to review and comment on certain aspects of these permits, and those comments may be taken into consideration before issuing the final permits.

In addition, instead of having to provide a 40 percent match for its outdoor air quality monitoring program grants, the tribe's match will be cut to five percent. After two years, EPA could raise the match to 10 percent if it is determined that the tribe can afford the increase. The tribe now collaborates with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on a project to monitor for particulate matter and ozone.

This additional grant eligibility allows the tribe to seek approval to not only develop, but to implement air pollution control programs such as burn barrel and open burning ordinances, and smoke management and regional haze rules.

The action is the culmination of several years work on the part of the region and the tribe. The tribe began discussions with the region in 2000. The discussions gained momentum in the summer of 2002 when the tribe presented EPA with a draft proposal. In 2004, the tribe formally submitted a complete, final application to the regional administrator for this authority.

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New York's Homeless Animals Benefit From $15.5 Million Grant

NEW YORK, New York, February 11, 2005 (ENS) - Maddie's Fund, the Pet Rescue Foundation, is a $200 million family foundation that Wednesday donated $15.5 million to make New York City a more human place for animals.

The donation, to cover a seven year period, is earmarked to help increase the number of adoptions, decrease animal homelessness, raise public awareness of local shelter and rescue organizations, and strengthen the Mayor's Alliance shelters' and rescue groups' current efforts and resources.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden, President of Maddie's Fund Rich Avanzino, and the Veterinary Medical Association of New York City were joined by Jane Hoffman, president of The Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, and Ed Sayres, president of ASPCA to announce the grant.

"This grant will help the private shelter and rescue organizations in the city increase adoptions and decrease the demand on the city shelter system to unnecessarily euthanize healthy and treatable companion animals," said Mayor Bloomberg. "It will make New York a more humane city."

Approximately $9.5 million of the Maddie's Fund grant will be spent to increase pet adoptions, and $6 million will be allocated to provide subsidies for spay and neuter surgeries for pets of low-income New Yorkers. The spay/neuter program will be administered by the VMANYC, which partnered with the Mayor's Alliance in applying for the grant. The VMANYC expects its member veterinarians to perform 14,000 spay/neuter surgeries in the first year alone.

The The Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals aims to increase above-baseline adoptions and decrease the number of dogs and cats euthanized in New York shelters by 2,800 in the first project year.

The grant provides about one-third of the total amount of money needed to fund these core programs over 10 years. Additional funding will be raised from other sources, including individual contributions, corporate sponsorships, and foundation grants.

"New York is the most influential city in the world," said Avanzino. "As such, helping New York save all of its healthy and treatable shelter dogs and cats has ramifications far beyond its borders. This project will be a beacon for the nation and the world."

"Transforming New York City into a no-kill environment is a tremendous challenge for everyone involved - the shelters and rescue groups, New York City's Animal Care and Control, and the citizens of our great city," said Hoffman. "Now, powered by Maddie's Fund's financial support and its demonstrated faith in New York's ability to tackle the difficult challenges ahead, we are confident that New York will succeed in becoming a no-kill city in the foreseeable future."

The Mayors Alliance for NYC's Animals, established in 2002, is a coalition of 65 animal rescue groups and shelters that are working with the City of New York to find homes for all of the City's homeless cats and dogs.

Maddie's Fund was established in 1999 to help U.S. communities eliminate the unnecessary killing of healthy and treatable homeless animals because they do not have homes. The foundation was created by Dave Duffield, founder, chairman and CEO of the Silicon Valley-based software giant PeopleSoft, and his wife, Cheryl, in honor of the beloved family miniature schnauzer, Maddie, who passed away in 1997.

For more information on animal adoption call 311 or visit: www.nyc.gov.